The use of disinfectants has risen sharply, especially in private use. Not least because of this, many users ask themselves whether disinfectant can run off and what consequences can occur if it is used again. We have briefly summarized all the information on how long disinfectant can be kept, what happens afterwards and what to look out for when disposing of it in this blog post.
At a glance: Can disinfectant run off?
As a general rule, disinfectant may well run off. Although alcohol is included in the form of ethanol, propanol or isopropanol, other ingredients are usually added. Both pharmaceuticals and biocides are subject to a legal obligation in Germany to be labeled with an expiration date on the package.
For different types of disinfectants, the question of an expiration date can be answered separately. Typically, disinfectant is availablein four types: hand disinfectant, wound disinfectant, surface disinfectant and disinfectant wipes.
Disinfectants for the hands are characterized by high compatibility and, in addition to alcohol, also contain sporicides (such as hydrogen peroxide) and humectants (such as glycerin). This can protect the skinfrom drying out. In addition to the mandatory indication of the expiry date of such additives, the alcohol volatilizes, so that the effectiveness decreases after a few months.
The same applies to wound disinfectants. Instead of humectants, the main ingredients here are octenidine and phenoxyethanol. These bring antiseptic and bactericidal properties. Usually sodium chloride and/or sodium hydroxide are also included. Here too, the legal obligation to label the expiration date must be observed, even though the ingredients per se cannot spoil.
Surface disinfectant is a bit tougher and sometimes has more concentrated compositions that can be aggressive to surfaces. In addition to alcohol, the main ingredients used are peroxy compounds, glycoderivatives, aldehydes and ammonium compounds, which are suitable fora variety of action spectra. In many cases, these disinfectants have a longer expiration date – but even these agents must be declared with the appropriate date on the packaging.
What applies to the other types of disinfectants can also be applied to disinfectant wipes –these also have an expiration date. Since the wipes are different forms of application (e.g., disinfectant wipes for hands or for surfaces), the expiration dates often differ. However, not infrequently they are shorter than in other species, which is due in particular to the special shape of the cloth.
Why does disinfectant “spoil”?
The fact that disinfectants must have an expiration date despite their high alcohol content is primarily due to two factors: legal requirements and the volatile properties of alcohol.
Depending on their composition, the ingredients of disinfectants ensure that the product is classified as a medicinal product or as a biocidein Germany. Both groups of substances are subject to a legal obligation to be provided with an expiration date. This gives the manufacturer security: after the expiration date, he no longer has to guarantee that sufficient efficacy and safe use are given.
In addition, the alcohol in particular evaporates over time. This can be accelerated by temperature and humidity fluctuations, but oxygen and light also contribute. If the alcohol is no longer present in a sufficient concentration, the effectiveness of the disinfectant is simply lost.
Disinfectant expired: Can I still use it?
Unlike many other drugs, there are no harmful effects once the disinfectant has expired. Rather, only the effect of expired disinfectant is impaired. The expiration date simply means that actual effectiveness can no longer be guaranteed.
Depending on how far in the past the expiration date is and how long the disinfectant has been open, the efficacy may have either been severely weakened or even lost entirely. If the agent continues to be used, no damage will occur nevertheless. However, it is very likely that the bacteria on the skin are not completely killed, which in turn can have negative consequences.
In private use, therefore, expired disinfectant is not a real source of danger. It’s different in healthcare facilities – think hospitals and operating rooms, for example. Here, disinfectants are givena last day of use when opened and then disposed of. These stricter healthcare regulations are enshrined in law.
How long does disinfectant last after opening the package?
Once the package is opened, the process of volatilization of the alcohol it contains usually begins. How long the disinfectant will then last depends primarily on the composition of the ingredients. Precise information on this must be providedin the package insert. However, as a guideline, the following periods can be mentioned:
- Hand disinfectant:6 to 12 months
- Wound disinfectant: 6 to 12 months
- Surface disinfectant:6 to 12 months
- Disinfecting wipes: 4 to 12 weeks
It is recommended to write the date of opening on the package (for example, with a waterproof marker) to keep track of the period.
What is the shelf life of sealed disinfectant?
For unopened disinfectant, most manufacturers give a shelf life of about 12 months. The relevant information must be provided on the packaging as well as in the package insert.
However, it is not uncommon for the effectiveness to remain contained for much longer. Since the disinfectant does not come into contact with any external influences and the package is hermetically sealed, the volatilization of the alcohol is significantly slowed down. Nevertheless, it is not recommended to hope for sufficient effectiveness and still use the agent: If the disinfection has expired, you should reach for a new pack.
Used expired disinfectant – what are the consequences?
If expired disinfectant was used, there are no negative health consequences. Harmful the agent does not become over time. However, since effectiveness can no longer be guaranteed, additional hygiene measures should be taken. This includes, for example,thorough hand washing and additional hygienic hand disinfection – this time with a disinfectant that has not expired.
How should expired disinfectant be disposed of?
Disinfectants belong to the aqueous solutions that have a chemical composition and antibacterial effect on viruses, bacteria, fungi and spores. However, what makes sense in a hygienic context can cause great harm to the environment. Therefore, disinfectant must be disposed of as chemical waste.
To prevent chemicals from entering wastewater, disinfection – whether expired or not – must not be flushed down the toilet under any circumstances. Instead, garbage stations and recycling plants have their own containers for chemical waste, where the leftovers can be disposed of. Small quantities are often also accepted by hazardous waste collection vehicles.
If, on the other hand, larger quantities are involved, which can occur in industry or in some companies, for example, it is worth contacting an appropriate disposal company. This company collects the supernatants for a fee and takes care of their proper disposal.
Store disinfectant correctly
For the correct storage of disinfectants, a distinction must be made between private use with daily quantities and storage of larger stocks. Privat gilt vor allem, dass die Wirkung nur dann gewährleistet werden kann, wenn das Desinfektionsmittel wie Medikamente gelagert wird – also kühl, aber frostfrei. In addition, direct sunlight and intense heat should be avoided.
In accordance with the safety regulations of theTechnical Rules for Hazardous Substances (TRGS) 510, the storage of larger quantities is regulated by law in the Ordinance on Hazardous Substances (GefStoffV) and requires more stringent measures. The storage of so-called “small quantities”, which is between 20 and 100 kg, depending on the classification of the hazard, may also take place outside a special warehouse. The following measures then take effect for storage:
- Labeling with the appropriate hazard symbol (disinfectants are usually flammable, which is why the hazardous substance symbol “flame” is necessary as labeling).
- Storage in closed and marked containers
- Storage in traffic routes, break rooms or sanitary roomsis prohibited.
- There must be no ignitable sources in the immediate vicinity of the disinfectant.
- A suitable retention device or containment area must be provided (e.g. a drip pan).
- Safety cabinets are also recommended to ensure proper storage.
Disinfectant expired: Effectiveness no longer guaranteed
Although no harmful effects occur when disinfectant has expired, the effectiveness is still lost. Usually this happens after four weeks to 12 months, which depends on the form of the remedy. Afterwards, expired disinfectant should be disposed of properly.
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